Why is Toyota Simulating Mt. Fuji Eruptions?!


In this article, part of a series featuring Toyota's research in non-automotive fields, Fuji erupts?!

Where does Mount Fuji erupt from?

While most would say “the summit,” the answer is not so simple. Several old craters exist near the volcano’s base, meaning a future eruption could occur surprisingly close to residential areas.

There is no telling where an eruption will come from. What’s more, past eruption cycles suggest that Mt. Fuji could blow at any moment. This makes planning evacuation scenarios all the more important.

Susono City in Shizuoka Prefecture, where the construction of Woven City is underway, has projected as many as 31 potential lava flow patterns. In one case, lava was expected to take a day to reach the populous Suyama district; a re-examination revealed that, for some areas, the time could be as little as two hours.

After hearing about a department working to unravel this startling data and better inform residents, we visited the Toyota Higashi-Fuji Technical Center.

The group that greeted us included a man wearing camouflage face paint and a mascot that looks like Mt. Fuji crossed with a gyoza dumpling... all of which will be explained in good time.

Who are these guys?

From left: Susono City’s Masaki Iizuka, Yasuo Yamamoto, and Susonon (head: Mt. Fuji, body: boiled gyoza, a local specialty), with Toyota members Naomi Akimoto, Kota Sata, Keiichi Namikoshi, and Kenichi Kitahama.

Last March, the Fuji hazard map was updated for the first time in 17 years, compelling Susono City, located at the foot of the mountain, to revise its regional evacuation plan. In doing so, technology developed by Toyota proved useful.

Kenichi Kitahama, Project General Manager, R-Frontier Division, Frontier Research Center

Susono faces ongoing challenges that it has been unable to resolve. We began working with the city because we felt that Toyota’s expertise could help find solutions.

Toyota has all kinds of simulation technology, of which multi-agent simulation was particularly useful. We have been using this technology to study how much the spread of autonomous driving could alleviate traffic congestion.

This joint public-private planning effort began by visualizing traffic congestion during evacuations. It was at this point that “Colonel Magma” chimed in. The mystery of his camouflage makeup will be cleared up later in the article, but he is in fact a Susono City employee.

Yasuo Yamamoto, Crisis Management Coordination Supervisor, Susono City Hall

A former member of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, Yamamoto dons the guise of Colonel Magma for disaster prevention classes.

Information and communications technology is a weak spot for Susono City, so we were very grateful when Toyota offered to help us formulate an evacuation plan. What’s more, Toyota also has connections with insurance companies and research organizations, enabling far-reaching analysis. I think we would have struggled on our own.

“At first, I was skeptical about how useful they would be,” says Colonel Magma with a smile, referring to Toyota’s simulations. Despite these misgivings, the ongoing efforts brought tangible results. Susono City’s mayor also shared the following comment.

Harukaze Murata, Susono City Mayor

The technology and know-how that Toyota provided enabled us to analyze data and visualize outcomes through 3D simulations, which would have been difficult by ourselves.

We incorporated the results into our Fuji volcano evacuation drills and disaster prevention classes for elementary and junior high schools, helping to raise awareness among residents. The project also boosted the skills of city employees engaged in data-driven policymaking.

Here was an example of a carmaker’s unique expertise being used for the benefit of the local area. And yet, there was also a big problem.